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Publication Date: 15 Nov 2012
Publisher: SPCK Publishing
Page Count: 288
Author: Robin R. Meyers
ISBN-13: 9780281069415, 9780281069422

Underground Church

Reclaiming The Subversive Way Of Jesus
By Robin R. Meyers
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ISBN: 9780281069415
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ISBN: 9780281069422
A new way to follow Jesus that draws on old ways of following him. Prominent progressive writer, speaker, and minister Robin Meyers proposes that the best way for the faithful to recapture the spirit of the early Christian church is to recognize that Jesus-following was - and must be again - subversive in the best sense of the word because the gospel taken seriously turns the world upside down. No matter how the church may organize itself or worship, the defining characteristic of the church of the future will be its Jesus-inspired countercultural witness.
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Robin Meyers is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ in
the USA, a columnist, media commentator and lecturer in the philosophy
department of Oklahoma City University. His progressive critique of
Christian faith and the institutional Church will surprise few people
who are already acquainted with other American writers such as Brian
McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Marcus Borg and Bishop Jack Spong. Taken
together, these writers and others represent a considerable influence on both sides of the Atlantic among liberal Christians and those seeking a faith and Church ‘fit’ for this third millennium.

Meyers is an attractive wordsmith, whose 2010 book, Saving Jesus
from the Church (HarperOne), immediately revealed its radical credentials
through its chapter titles, such as ‘Faith as Being, Not Belief’, ‘Jesus the
Teacher, Not the Savior’, ‘Original Blessing, Not Original Sin’, ‘Religion as
Relationship, Not Righteousness’. You get the drift.

The Underground Church covers the ground rather more comprehensively
in rehearsing again the story of how the radically subversive
way of Jesus, over the centuries, became lost in the enforcing Church of
orthodox belief. Meyers writes:

What began as communities of radical inclusiveness, voluntary redistribution
of wealth, a rejection of violence as the tool of injustice, and a
joyful egalitarianism that welcomed a ‘nobody’ to worship elbow-toelbow
with a ‘somebody’ devolved into a top heavy edifice defined by
obligatory beliefs enforced by a hierarchy. (p. 59)

Meyers desires to see the followers of Jesus, untrammelled by the
accretions of church tradition and institutional baggage, set free as an
underground movement to be the kind of counter-cultural, anti-imperial,
diverse and inclusive community which is Meyers’s idealisation of the
early church. There seems to me to be little evidence of the early
Christian communities coming anywhere near this ideal state of radical
subversion and inclusivity, but it does provide a platform for Meyers, like
many others, to inveigh against the Constantinian ‘takeover’ of the Jesus
movement. Meyers describes Constantine’s fusing of church and state
as ‘the moment when the drive to “standardize” the Christian product
fundamentally transformed The Way into the Belief System – when
orthopraxy was replaced with orthodoxy’ (p. 66).

And so the author goes on to ‘reimagine’ the Church in the context
of North America and this is where some caution is needed by UK
readership. It seems to me that his harsh criticism of mainstream
American religion cannot be so easily replicated in the UK, where despite
the trappings of establishment, even the Church of England bishops
have no hesitation in challenging many a government programme in the
light of Christian teachings. Interestingly, Meyers quotes Chrysostom as
defining perfect Christianity as ‘seeking the common good’ – parlance
familiar to those in the UK. Common to progressive commentators on religion both in the UK
and in the USA is of course the desire for an authentic and trustworthy
re-presentation of Christian faith, which writers such as Marcus Borg
were so skilled at achieving. Meyers’s book deserves to be read for this
desire alone.

In the epilogue, Meyers catalogues the characteristics of the
‘underground church’. Many of these ‘marks’ would earn a sincere
‘Amen’ from a broad spectrum of believers – a church where children
are cherished, not just in theory; a church where the mission budget
is as large as the operating budget; a church where learning is not
subversive and science is not the enemy of faith; and much more. Does
Meyers intend to create a new Church built around the changes which he
pointedly advocates in the closing pages of the book? Or more hopefully
and realistically can such changes occur within existing denominations
and structures? Only time will tell.

Here, then, is another contribution to a growing movement of those
seeking to be true to the way of Jesus and wishful for a transformation of
the Church. Put simply, Meyers imagines for us a Church whose members
‘share the conviction that it is more important to be loving than to be
right’ (p. 254). Amen to that!

- Adrian Alker

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